The Herald Bulletin

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Sports

December 6, 2012

Eye on the Opponent: Jury is still out on Locker

Titans QB hopes latest fresh start sticks

INDIANAPOLIS — It almost isn’t fair to judge Jake Locker’s fledgling NFL career.

The Tennessee Titans selected the former University of Washington star with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, but he played in just five games as the team flirted with playoff contention behind veteran Matt Hasselbeck.

During the offseason, owner Bud Adams threw his support behind the young signal-caller. And head coach Mike Munchak named Locker the starter after a preseason quarterback competition.

He played the best game of his career in a Week 3 victory against the Detroit Lions, completing 29 of 42 passes for 378 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 44-41 win.

But Locker was hurt after throwing just two passes the next week against Houston, and he missed the next five games.

As he prepares for his first career start against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Locker is starting over once again.

Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was fired following a 24-19 loss against Jacksonville on Nov. 25, and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains was promoted to replace him.

Tennessee also brought in longtime Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore as a consultant, and the early results were mixed.

Locker had 309 passing yards — just the second 300-yard game of his career — but he completed just 21 of 45 passes and had three interceptions to go with one touchdown pass in a 24-10 loss against Houston.

Still, the quarterback — who is now 2-5 as a starter and has played just 12 games in 1 3/4 NFL seasons — believes Moore will help his game.

“He brings a lot,” Locker said. “He’s got a lot of wisdom. He’s been around the game for a long time and coached a lot of players that have been very successful. So he just has a lot of knowledge, a lot of things that are able to help you, little details that maybe you don’t pay attention to or wouldn’t think that they are as important as they really turn out to be when he explains that stuff to you.”

The Titans (4-8) still have high hopes for Locker.

His athleticism adds a new dimension to the offense, and he could become the centerpiece of a system that is slowly moving away from talented but inconsistent running back Chris Johnson.

“He’s a big threat, very dangerous,” Colts linebacker Pat Angerer said. “You can kind of underestimate him, but he has made a lot of good plays with his feet.”

Locker doesn’t look to run often, but when he does, he’s averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

Put that ability together with a cannon arm, and it’s easy to see the potential that has Tennessee so intrigued.

The Titans just wish they’d see more consistency.

Locker has completed 56.6 percent of his passes for 1,473 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. Those are numbers that leave the needle very much in the middle for his career. Not good enough to declare him the franchise’s quarterback of the future. Not bad enough to call for a new plan.

He’s got four games remaining this season to change those numbers for the better.

And a win against Indianapolis (8-4) on Sunday would be a good place to start.

The Colts stunned the Titans 19-13 in overtime in Nashville on Oct. 28, winning on rookie running back Vick Ballard’s now famous twisting dive into the end zone.

Locker watched that day from the sideline. He hopes to write a different ending in Indianapolis.

But, after the Colts’ heroics in the final three minutes last week at Detroit, he’s well aware of the challenge ahead.

“What’s impressive about Indy right now is their ability to find ways to win at the end,” Locker said. “They’ve been behind in multiple games and found ways to come from behind late in games and win. We have to focus on the red zone and then when it gets down to the end, don’t be comfortable with the lead if you have it. You have to understand that they’re very good at making things happen and making big plays at the end of the game, and you’ve got to respect that.”

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